We were all very nervous. The weather had suddenly warmed up (thank goodness) but it was a Tuesday night and the traffic was as bad as ever. Supposing we held a party and nobody came? Or worse, they came, saw, had a quick drink and left?
We needn’t have worried. The launch party of the Académie du Vin Library amid the dazzling surroundings of Vintners’ Hall in London was a real cracker! Thank you to all of you who made it so, commiserations to those who couldn’t make it (you were sorely missed) and to the handful of people who didn’t reply to the invitation… well, you’ll know better next time!
Guest of honour Michael Broadbent arrived with a beaming smile that never left him all evening, despite being almost swamped by the host of admirers and old friends who came to pay their respects. The wine flowed (as it should) and the Livery Hall positively buzzed as the great and the good of the wine world caught up with each other to exchange gossip and compare En Primeur battle scars.
Then it was the turn of Publisher Simon McMurtrie to announce the official launch of Académie du Vin Library and to entreat – in his usual charming way – all those present to buy a copy of Michael’s book Wine Tasting. But Simon also had some surprises in store. One was that Michael himself, in an extraordinarily generous gesture, had offered to match each book sold with a second paid for out of his own pocket. Buy one, get one free? Who could possibly refuse? (Hardly anyone did!)
And then, to the sound of gasps and cheers, Simon announced the evening’s big news – that Michael and his long-time partner Valerie had got married last Thursday. 92 tomorrow and Michael is still sending tremors through the wine world. Congratulations to the happy couple!
After Simon, it was co-founder Steven Spurrier’s turn to present Michael with an ‘official’ copy of Wine Tasting, prefaced by the words ‘To my mentor… and hero’ – a sentiment echoed by many others in the room. And then it was the turn of Michael’s son Bartholomew – known to all as Bollew – to say a few words. With a tear in his eye, Bollew recalled how his father, who was very ill at the beginning of the year, had bounced back to rude health with a book – and a new bride. It was a hugely emotional moment, and the cheers almost brought the house down.
Then it was back to the wine, the delicious food (thank you Searcys) and the talk – some small, some big! One got the impression that things would have carried on that way well into the small hours, had not Steve Marcham and his hugely professional Vintners’ Hall team discreetly cleared the Livery Hall and sent 200 guests happily on their way. A truly unforgettable evening – and here’s to the next one! Martin Preston